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In my last article, I covered some basics of LinkedIn networking and I had a really good response. So many people REALLY struggle with networking and I get it. To be honest, when my business partner and I attend a networking event together, she always tells me not to follow her around because she won’t talk to me. I hate that! First and foremost, as an introvert who covers it up well, I would rather have my teeth pulled than network with strangers. However, I find that once I get rolling, it really is no big deal. So, why do so many of us dread networking and how can we work around it? For most of us, if we think about it, we can start by realizing that we find out about jobs, gain clients or make money by knowing the right people. So, how do we meet those right people are? Your “right people” might be completely different than my “right people”. Identify who you need to meet. If you are in transition, you already know that you must have a list of your target companies. Find professional associations and universities in your area that host networking events. Talk to current and former co-workers; try a Chamber of Commerce event. There are many ways to get out there and start meeting the people who can help you move towards your goals. Now, you know where the right people are, why are we so uncomfortable with taking the next step and actually meeting them? For me, i'ts one if not all of the following:

  • I don’t want to be rejected
  • I don’t want to sound stupid
  • I have nothing to say
  • I sound very “salesy”
I know I wouldn’t want to talk to someone who clearly wants something from me! This would be a good example of what you shouldn’t say (and it's typically what I hear being said).
"My name is Susan and I am currently in a job transition. I met with your colleague on Tuesday and she suggested I connect with you. I was laid off from my previous employer, COMPANY X, at the end of January, so I am in the market for a job again. I am seeking out the following types of positions:   "Director, Software Implementations, Senior Business Analyst, Director, Business Systems Implementations   "At COMPANY X I managed the implementation of a proprietary membership management/scheduling/point of sale system for 21 sites and also played a lead role in their PeopleSoft Financials implementation. I would like to get back into this type of work."
In my business, which is all about networking and teaching people the importance of networking, we call this the “show up and throw up” approach. I think that visual speaks for itself. If I am the recipient, a few things have most likely taken place. My eyes have glazed over and I am thinking about what I am going to have for dinner OR I have a plastic smile on my face and am searching for the nearest exit. Why is that? Because you are violating the Golden Rule of Networking!

The Golden Rule Of Networking

“Networking and building relationships is about giving not getting.” Okay, so we have established the most fundamental rule about networking and you find yourself at an event. What, then, are the steps to an effective plan for networking that takes the fear out of the process.

The Search

Start meeting people. Prior to the event, see if you are able to obtain a listing of attendees. If you can, start with a familiar face; that person can lead you to a new contact. If you are at a breakfast or lunch event, introduce yourself to everyone at the table. Go early, stay late – Great opportunities exist. Talk to someone standing alone; they are feeling uncomfortable as well, I guarantee it! My favorite though, volunteer to check people in at an event. You will get to meet everyone!

The Discovery

This is the tricky part, what do you say once you have introduced yourself. Open up with a statement, question “We haven’t met yet, I’m Susan. What brings you to the event today?” Or... “I haven’t attended this event before, have you?" After an introduction... “What is your role at your company?” (What are they involved in or what is their profession, etc.) “I haven’t heard of your organization; can you tell me more about the services they offer?” Think about the topic that will be covered at the event and go prepared with a pertinent question. “What do you think about... ” Now here is the important piece. LISTEN! You’ll begin to hear clues about how you can help.

The Offering

After you have discovered their challenge, issue or opportunity, offer to help. Sounds great but how? Give them a suggestion, resource, tip, tool, lead or advice; anything that will advance their cause. Good things to give are referral, websites, books, potential hiring managers, upcoming events, or a contact. This is your chance to take the relationship to the higher level.

The Promotion

Now, it's finally your turn! This is your chance for a quick 10-second introduction and a brief idea of what you do, how you help people and what you are looking for. Make it simple enough but specific enough that it will spark an idea in the mind of the listener. This is your chance to build a rapport that can lead to referrals, leads, new contacts or other networks. A colleague of mine uses a wonderful adage; “To be specific is terrific, to be vague is the plague.” Once someone engages in a true give and take dialogue with you, it's VITAL that you be very clear about what you are looking for. What does this mean? Your intro needs to be clear on how you are different. Have a list in your head of at least two or three target companies. If you tell the listener, “I am a financial professional and am interested in working for a small to medium size company,” that is not likely to spark any sort of lead because the statement is too vague. A better statement would be, “I am a financial professional and have had quite a bit of success in identifying inefficiencies that hurt the bottom line of a company’s profitability. I have been researching several companies and I would love to learn more about Companies X, Y and Z.” By being clear, you have opened the door for the listener to think about what contacts he or she might have that can be of use to you.

The Close

Finish it up with an exchange of business cards and information. Tell them that you will follow-up on what you said you would do. Jot a short note about your conversation and what you have committed to on the back of their card. SHAKE HANDS! Reach out and thank them. You are there to connect with several people so a great break away statement is “It was a pleasure to meet you. Thanks for telling me about what you do. I am going to let you meet more people here. I will follow up with you tomorrow on what we talked about.” Here is the kicker, this is the point where 90% of people drop the ball. Be the 10% who actually follow up. It says a lot about who you are and helps cement the relationship. So, that’s it... five essentials to effective networking. You can do it and you can be successful at it. Understand the process: Find an event where your “right people” are, have an idea of how to open a conversation, be prepared to give before you get, know who you are and what you need and be able to articulate it succinctly, follow up. Ok now you are ready! Start networking! Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Learn how to land a career you love

Everyone needs to feel their voice is heard and their contributions are important. Something as simple as sharing a drink the last hour of the day on a Friday with the team to recap wins and give praise can build camaraderie within the team.

All of the above are fairly simple to implement but can make a huge difference in morale and motivation. Have any of these tips worked well for young the past? Do you have other tips to motivate your creative team? If so, please share them with me!

Encourage curiosity. Spark debate. Stimulate creativity and your team will be better at handling challenges with flexibility and resourcefulness. Create a safe space for ideas, all ideas, to be heard. In ideation, we need the weird and off-the-wall ideas to spur us on to push through to the great ideas.

Sure, there are a ton of studies done on this, but here is my very unscientific personal take. When team members can make decisions about how they work on projects, they are more engaged and connected to the project outcome. When they see how potentially dropping the ball would affect the entire team, they step up. When they feel like what they are doing is impactful and valued, they are naturally motivated to learn more, and be even better team members.

Rarely does a one-size-fits-all style work when it comes to team motivation. I have found that aligning employee goals with organization goals works well. Taking time to get to know everyone on your team is invaluable. What parts of their job do they love? What do they not enjoy? What skills do they want to learn? Even going so far as to where they see themselves in five years career-wise. These questions help you right-fit projects, and help your team see you are committed to creating a career path for them within the company.

Most designers I know love a good challenge. We are problem solvers by nature. Consistently give yourself and your team small challenges, both design-related and not. It will promote openness within the team to collaborate, and it will help generate ideas faster in the long run. Whether the challenge is to find a more exciting way to present an idea to stakeholders or fitting a new tool into the budget, make it a challenge just to shake things up.